sandy hook short

The Frist Generation Cordless Telephones Systems and Early Field prototypes - Circa early 1985

cordless 4000

Rewind back to 1985. AT&T products included computer systems, transmission systems, underwater submarine cable systems, microwave radio systems, and of course the company had a very successful long distance telecom network.

The company made telephones for the operating companies, including the trimline signature products.

The FCC had allowed cordless telephones to operate in small segments of the spectrum at 46/49 MHz to carry a small number of channels.

A small team of engineers worked on the initial designs and diligently worked towards a solution to enter this market. At the same time, entry into the market was needed and products were sold using OEM factories who purchased third party designs. A product line was created, successfully sold, and the products would be built in Taiwan and Hong Kong factories in the early days of electronic assembly in these locations.

This was a new and exciting product segment with real user value and the promise of growth. It made sense to leverage my satellite background, networking background, and TV and audio transmission systems. My digital hardware design work could also be leveraged into future products. The company encouraged such broadening of scope. I joined the cordless team in 1985 to work on new designs.

II remember vividly my interview: my boss would describe to me a steep challenge and was pleased that I was willing to take it on.


The significant challenge:The AT&T brand needed to be protected from a high return rate in cordless telephone products. Our CEO designated a tiger team led by an executive, and I was assigned to this team. The goal: reduce the returns from 40% to industry levels, and protect the brand name, especially in the consumer segment where long distance service was a critical revenue stream.

What ensued is a series of factory trips to improve quality systems, five weeks to visit Hong Kong, then three weeks in Taiwan, and another three weeks in Hong Kong, etc.)

We became intimately familiar with parametric evaluation of the product, and I, as a newbie, had to learn all the systems from scratch. I met an engineer then would be my mentor in technical matters, and I was given a lot of latitude in doing the right thing for the product. As engineers, we had direct access to the executive in charge and provided him with data. He made instant decisions and we had wonderful support to get things done. We participated in daily conference calls and after a few months, the products were fixed. Some products were killed (I think it was model 8000, which failed safety tests) before they got in customers hands. There was a clear lesson for all of us from Tommy Thompson: he made no compromise in quality, or brand integrity. If the third party design or assembly had compromised safety, or quality, it was an item to be fixed.

The lessons in this apply every day, in safeguarding customer needs,acting in integrity, and ensuring quality and long term success.